Impact of preterm birth on the developing myocardium of the neonate

Jonathan G. Bensley, Lynette Moore, Robert De Matteo, Richard Harding, Mary Jane Black

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Background Globally, ∼10% of infants are born before full term. Preterm birth exposes the heart to the demands of postnatal cardiovascular function before cardiac development is complete. Our aim was to examine, in hearts collected from infants at autopsy, the effects of preterm birth on myocardial structure and on cardiomyocyte development.

Methods and results Heart tissue was collected at perinatal autopsies of 16 infants who died following preterm birth between 23 and 36 weeks of gestation, and survived for 1-42 days; the hearts of 37 appropriately grown stillborn infants, aged 20-40 weeks of gestation, were used for comparison. Using confocal microscopy and image analysis, cardiomyocyte proliferation, maturation, ploidy, and size were quantified, and interstitial collagen and myocardial capillarization were measured. Preterm birth resulted in a marked reduction in the proliferation of cardiomyocytes relative to age-matched stillborn infant controls (preterm vs. control P<0.0001). In contrast, preterm birth did not affect heart weight, capillarization, interstitial collagen or cardiomyocyte maturation, ploidy, and size. 

Conclusions Preterm birth appears to lead to an abrupt reduction in cardiomyocyte cell division. This reduced cardiomyocyte proliferation in preterm infants may adversely impact upon the final number of cardiomyocytes which may reduce cardiac functional reserve, and impair the reparative capacity of the myocardium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)880-888
Number of pages9
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • cell proliferation
  • heart development
  • neonatology
  • preterm birth

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